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Book 37, Flamewing Godbear, Chapter 22 – Price

The Hegemons and Emperors were scattered throughout the various flaming passageways. They were all able to hear what Ji Ning said, but none of them were in a rush to respond. Instead, they began to use their Primaltwins, avatars, retainers, and various communication methods back in the Sixteen Realmverses Alliance to discuss this matter amongst themselves.

“I heard Daolord Darknorth’s voice. He seems to be threatening us.”

“I heard it as well.”

“Right, I also heard him.”

“We were all able to hear him. It seems as though Daolord Darknorth’s voice has permeated every single part of the flaming passageways! This is proof that he does indeed exercise control over the flaming passageways.”

“Everyone, what do you think we should do? The flaming passageways are filled with such danger that even Hegemon Azurefiend was trapped. Any of us might fall as well. The only thing we can do seems to be stay where we are and not move at all.”

“Are we supposed to just bend over and admit defeat?”

“Don’t worry. We have so many Hegemons here, while Darknorth is nothing more than a single Daolord. He won’t dare to go too far.” The Hegemons and Emperors continued to discuss this matter amongst themselves.

……

Ning’s voice continued to echo through the flaming passageways: “Hegemons and Emperors, by now you should have already verified that I’m telling the truth.”

“Then what do you wish of us?”

“Go ahead and tell us what you want.”

The Hegemons and Emperors were all able to maintain their composure. They were all powerful lords and rulers in their own rights, after all.

“Haha, I, Daolord Darknorth, am not the wild and unbridled sort.”  Ning’s laughter rang out within the ears of every single Hegemon and Emperor. “I won’t ask for too much. You’ve come here to kill me and take my treasures, and I hear that you all came via realmship. I imagine you already paid quite a price just to make it here. All you need to do is pay me the same price you paid to travel to the Flamedragon Realmverse, and I’ll permit you all to leave.”

“This bit of price might pain you a bit, but it’s not too excessive. If you are willing to pay the price, I’ll immediately let you leave. If you are unwilling to pay any price whatsoever… well, then there’ll be nothing I can do. I can’t just let you leave like this. I, Daolord Darknorth, am not someone to be abused by others without repercussion.” Ning’s voice echoed throughout every part of the flaming passageways.

This was a request which Ning had put quite a bit of thought into. Hegemon Azurefiend had already publicly revealed Ning’s abilities, making it so that all the Hegemons and Emperors would be on their guard. Some would even be temporarily immobilized, making it impossible for Ning to attack them for now. If pushed too hard, they could simply pay the price needed to ask Realmslord Windgrace to come over and rescue them one-by-one.

“Hmph. Daolord Darknorth… I’m impressed that a trifling Daolord like yourself was able to control the flaming passageways. However… now that we already know what you are capable of, you are no longer a threat to us.” Hegemon Dawnruler stood in the air within a flaming passageway: “If you are wise, you would immediately swear a lifeblood oath not to act against us and let us leave safely. That way, it can be even be said that we are on friendly terms with each other! Otherwise… if you choose to antagonize all these Hegemons and Emperors, the repercussions shall be far beyond what a trifling Daolord like yourself can endure.”

“Daolord Darknorth, you might be forgetting something.” Hegemon Winterflame said in a cold voice, “Only part of the Hegemons and Emperors are trapped within the flaming passageway! A large number have yet to arrive. Once they do get here, they will travel together and work together. There’s no way the flaming passageways will be able to withstand the combined might of that many Hegemons and Emperors working in concert. They’ll be able to rescue all of us with ease, and you’ll be faced with over twenty Hegemons and many Emperors working together to hunt you down. You won’t even have a place to run. Even the flaming passageways of the Jadefire Realm will probably be rent asunder once more!”

“Daolord Darknorth, you should know your own limits.”

“Trying to threaten all of us Hegemons and Emperors at the same time? You really are quite bold.”

Quite a few of the Hegemons and Emperors began to speak out. Clearly, they were unwilling to bow their heads before a Daolord. If they were on their own and had been captured, they probably would’ve lowered their heads, admitted defeat, and then handed over some treasures. But given how many of them were trapped here together, they felt certain that Daolord Darknorth wouldn’t dare to offend them.

“Gentlemen, you came for me and are now trapped in the flaming passageways that I control. I need but nod and all of you can depart safely… but you aren’t willing to pay any price at all for that? Do you really think that I’m someone you can so easily mistreat? Hmph. Very well, then. I’ll meet you all one-by-one.” Ning fell silent, having nothing further to say.

……

Another part of the flaming passageways. Ning and Hegemon Azurefiend were seated together within Ning’s realmship, drinking some wine together.

“Hm? Not bad.” Hegemon Azurefiend took a sniff of the wine in his glass, a relaxed look on his face. He then took a single small sip.

“How’d it go? Didn’t work, did it?” Hegemon Azurefiend smirked.

“They are all tough old bastards. They weren’t willing to pay any price at all.” Ning drank some wine, a cold light flashing through his eyes. “It seems I’ve been too nice to them. They really do think I’m a pushover.”

“So you’ve finally thought it through, eh?” Hegemon Azurefiend lidded his eyes as he continued to drink the wine.

Ning glanced at Azurefiend. The skinny, shriveled old man looked so vulgar and obscene as he enjoyed his wine, but he was actually an incredibly powerful Chaos Godbeast Hegemon who was close to Hegemon Brightshore in power! Still, Ning was in a superb mood. Now that Azurefiend was his retainer, it would be much easier for him to deal with Archon Silksnow’s final act of revenge.

“Let’s go and meet with them. Let’s visit Hegemon Dawnruler first,” Ning said.

Swoosh. The realmship transformed into a streak of light that advanced through the flaming passageways, darting through the winding paths at incredible speeds without encountering any mechanisms at all.

“I never would’ve imagined that one would be able to travel through these flaming passageways in such a smooth, unimpeded fashion. We didn’t run into any problems at all.” Hegemon Azurefiend stared at the outside, then sighed, “When I was chasing after you, it appears you intentionally ‘ran into’ a few traps. I was quite excited when I saw it, back then. It appears you were playing with me the entire time.”

“I had no choice. I wasn’t strong enough to deal with you head-on, and so I had to play a few tricks with my control over the flaming passageways. Now that I’m strong enough, there’s no need for me to continue to play hide-and-seek.” Ning sighed. “With you here, brother Azurefiend, I can finally bring a true end to this matter.”

“Mm.” Hegemon Azurefiend nodded in a self-satisfied manner, showing not one ounce of humility. “Now that I am your retainer… once word spreads, the Hegemons and Emperors will all be dissuaded from even harboring designs on your realmship.”

If a Hegemon held a realmship, the other Hegemons wouldn’t think to try and take it. This was because killing a Hegemon was simply far too difficult. Generally speaking, it would take either an Otherverse Lord or an entire host of Hegemons working together to accomplish such a feat. Kill a Hegemon who had a realmship? That would be even more difficult.

“Here we are.” Ning stared towards the front.

“Ah, that’s Dawnruler.” Azurefiend grinned as he glanced towards the front as well. “That old fellow has always been quite proud.”

Ning relaxed a bit upon seeing this. He was worried that Hegemon Azurefiend would care so much about his face that he wouldn’t cooperate. Ning’s worry was that even after becoming his retainer, Hegemon Azurefiend would feel embarrassed upon encountering other Hegemons that he would feel a bit uncomfortable and out-of-sorts. This was something Ning didn’t wish to see! In truth, however, as a Hegemon Azurefiend had an incredibly powerful Dao-heart. Since he had already come to a decision, he was going to accept it with a calm heart.

“Come, let us go out,” Azurefiend said.

“Let’s go.” Ning rose to his feet as well. Ning, Azurefiend, and Whitethaw simultaneously flew out of the realmship.

……

A golden-robed elder with three eyes was standing there, a solemn look on his face as he stared at the halted realmship. Hegemon Dawnruler was an extremely inflexible, grim, and dominating Hegemon. This was why he had immediately led the other Hegemons in immediately refusing Ning’s request for a price to be paid.

“Eh?” Hegemon Dawnruler frowned slightly when he saw three figures fly towards him from afar.

Ning and Azurefiend were shoulder-to-shoulder, while Whitethaw was slightly behind Ning.

“Azurefiend?” Hegemon Dawnruler frowned as he spoke.

“Dawnruler.” Hegemon Azurefiend said, “You already know the request which Darknorth has made. I urge you to be a good boy and accept it. That way, you’ll be able to leave safely and without any problems.”

“You are speaking on his behalf?” Hegemon Dawnruler frowned, completely mystified. “Is this the price he demanded of you? Based on my understanding of you, there’s no way you would’ve agreed to the demands of a Daolord.”

“I’ve already sworn a lifeblood oath to become Daolord Darknorth’s retainer,” Hegemon Azurefiend said. “As his retainer, I naturally must assist him whole-heartedly.”

“Y-you…” Hegemon Dawnruler’s third eye bulged out in disbelief. He had been alive for countless aeons, but he had never even heard of such a thing. He stared at Hegemon Azurefiend in disbelief. “Azurefiend, you are a Hegemon… but you’ve become a retainer to a trifling Daolord?”

Once word of this spread, it would undoubtedly cause an enormous stir in all the Sixteen Realmverses Alliance. In fact, word might spread to even more distant realmverses and otherverses!

_______________

Book 37, Flamewing God, Chapter 23 – Word Spreads

This was completely and utterly unheard of!

Hegemons stood at the very apex of every realmverse and every otherverse. An exalted Hegemon… serve as a retainer to a Daolord? What sort of a joke was this? Everyone felt as though this was an absolute joke which simply wasn’t conceivable.

“Your third eye is about to pop out from all the bulging,” Hegemon Azurefiend said with a frown. “What’s there to be surprised about? Darknorth is extremely strong, second only to Hegemons in power! I had a wager with him, and I lost. I, Azurefiend, am not the sort to welch on my bets. I lost and so I will pay my debt. I have willingly joined Darknorth as his retainer.”

“Y-you…” Hegemon Dawnruler was completely stunned by Hegemon Azurefiend’s words.

“Any other questions?” Hegemon Azurefiend looked at Dawnruler.

“Impressive. Quite impressive.” Hegemon Dawnruler shook his head. “Brother Azurefiend, I’m impressed by your tolerance levels.”

“Cut the crap. Now that I am Daolord Darknorth’s retainer, none of the Hegemons or Emperors heading this way will have any chance of taking the realmship from him. They probably won’t even come,” Azurefiend said. “Darknorth didn’t ask for all that much from you, and he hasn’t put any of you in any actual life-threatening danger at all. Even if you went to ask Realmslord Windgrace to help out… given his personality, he probably wouldn’t intervene over such a minor matter and come help you out.”

“So… just go ahead and pay the price for freedom. Otherwise, you can just keep sitting here.” Azurefiend looked at Dawnruler, who was silent. Dawnruler knew that Azurefiend’s words made a lot of sense.

Azurefiend himself was a Hegemon; he understood Hegemonic thought-processes quite clearly. Realmslord Windgrace was such a transcendental figure that he didn’t get involved in any power squabbles at all. He would only intervene in situations which were truly lethal for the local Hegemons! There was no way he would come here just because Ji Ning was asking these Hegemons and Emperors for a few treasures!

“Darknorth isn’t asking for that much either. The combined amount from all of you Hegemons and Emperors is probably comparable to just the networth of one or two Hegemons,” Hegemon Azurefiend said calmly. “There’s no way Realmslord Windgrace would be so shameless as to come here for such a small amount of treasure.”

“Ugh. Enough, Azurefiend. I’ll accept the conditions.” Hegemon Dawnruler looked at Hegemon Azurefiend, then shook his head. “The price we are paying is nothing. You, however, are the unluckiest bastard out of all of us. If there’s anything you need me to help you out with, just say the word.”

“Don’t even start.” Hegemon Azurefiend’s eyes flashed with cold light. He was an incredibly proud figure who had wandered through countless places. Hegemon Dawnruler’s intentional show of ‘pity’ had rather angered Azurefiend.

“Alright, alright! Calm down. My mistake,” Hegemon Dawnruler said hurriedly. But when he looked at Azurefiend, he couldn’t help but continue to sigh secretly.

An exalted Hegemon serve as a retainer for a Daolord? Word of this would quickly spread with wildfire speed! The Hegemons would all spread this shocking information to their peers, which would then spread even farther away.

……

Hegemon Dawnruler obediently handed over the requisite treasures. Hegemon Wuye and Hegemon Fogsun had long ago publicized within the Sixteen Realmverses Alliance as to what they would need in order to ferry Hegemons via their realmships. Thus, Ning knew what the price had been.

Ning swore a lifeblood oath as well, ensuring that Hegemon Dawnruler would feel at ease. Hegemon Dawnruler’s greatest worry was that once he began to move, Ning would suddenly activate a mechanism to trap him.

……

A short while later, Hegemon Oldgem and the Paragon of Swords were staring in astonishment at Ning, Azurefiend, and Whitethaw.

“Brother Azurefiend, you’ve become Daolord Darknorth’s retainer?” As the conversation progressed, the two Hegemons turned to stare at Hegemon Azurefiend in absolute astonishment.

“What’s with all the fuss? Go ask Dawnruler for the details,” Azurefiend barked with a frown. “Hurry up! You two are pretty strong, but with me here it’ll be quite hard for you to defeat all of the mechanisms and traps present.”

“Fine, fine. We’ll pay.” Hegemon Oldgem nodded.

“Impressive, Daolord Darknorth.” The Paragon of Swords glanced at Ning. The two truly were stunned by this. They also understood that with Azurefiend supporting Ning, there was no way they’d be able to fight through the flaming passageways by themselves.

……

Word quickly spread, causing an utter storm of amazement to sweep through the Sixteen Realmverses Alliance. Many learned the rough details of what had happened; Hegemon Azurefiend had been trapped within the flaming passageways, then had lost a bet to Daolord Darknorth and was thus his retainer for a time.

Whoosh.

A realmship had been accumulating power as it was preparing to tear through the Great Dark, but it suddenly came to a halt.

“Gentlemen.” Within the realmship, Hegemon Fogsun turned to stare at the other five Hegemons and the other six Emperors. “You should’ve received word as well that Daolord Darknorth is in control of the flaming passageways of the Jadefire Realm! Hegemon Azurefiend was trapped by him and has now become his retainer. There’s no chance that you’ll be able to win the realmship from him. What are you planning to do next? Shall you still go and try your luck?”

“How could something like this have happened?”

“Hegemon Azurefiend really is a disgrace of a Hegemon. He was so afraid of dying that he chose to go serve a Daolord? How preposterous!”

“I feel rather ‘impressed’ by Azurefiend. I never would’ve been able to force myself to bow my head like that. I would’ve rather died than to swallow such a disgrace.” This was what the Hegemons and Emperors were all saying amongst themselves.

Although they had all paid a price in treasures to board the realmship, and although it had all come to naught, they didn’t feel too disappointed. This had been a free-for-all amongst many Hegemons and Emperors, after all; only one would succeed while the rest would fail. They had long ago mentally prepared themselves for failure. Thus, it didn’t really matter now that they really had ended up empty-handed.

However, they couldn’t help but sigh with commiseration. Hegemon Azurefiend was an extremely powerful Hegemon, far more powerful than the vast majority of them… and yet, he had lowered his head to serve a Daolord as retainer?

Quite a few of them actually began to view Azurefiend with contempt, feeling that he truly was a shameless craven.

“Gentlemen, we need to decide what the next plan of action is,” Hegemon Fogsun said.

“What else can we do? We’ve already paid upfront. Are you going to refund us our treasures?”

“I agree. Brother Fogsun, you should refund us half. We haven’t gotten anything out of this visit,” the five Hegemons and six Emperors all chorused.

“Cut the jokes,” Hegemon Fogsun said hurriedly. “You were all lucky! If you made it in there, you’d probably be threatened and extorted by Daolord Darknorth as well. You’d probably end up paying even more!”

“Haha, enough, enough. Brother Fogsun, we’re already quite close to the Flamedragon Realmverse, while you need to take the other Hegemons and Emperors back from the Flamedragon Realmverse. How about this? Let’s just all head there together and see if there’s a chance for us to meet Daolord Darknorth. All of us are quite curious about him.”

“Hmph. Curious? A Daolord who was actually able to convince a Hegemon to be his retainer… what an audacious fellow.”

“He succeeded, didn’t he?”

“Only because Azurefiend is a coward who fears death! Hmph!” The Hegemons and Emperors continued to discuss this amongst themselves.

“Very well, then, I’ll continue to head towards the Flamedragon Realmverse.” Hegemon Fogsun shook his head and sighed. “What a pity! This was just my second delivery. There were Hegemons and Emperors in two other realmverses who should’ve been in the third delivery. There’s no way they are going to pay me nor. Jeeze, Daolord Darknorth… why did you have to be so hasty? Why couldn’t you have waited until all the Hegemons and Emperors arrived before making your move?”

“This time, the only ones to come out a winner were yourself, Wuye, and Daolord Darknorth.”

“Yes, all the rest of us suffered huge losses.” The Hegemons and Emperors continued to drink, chat, and merrymake amongst themselves.

……

Word quickly spread. None of the Hegemons and Emperors in the Sixteen Realmverses Alliance harbored any further desires on the realmship. When they had merely found out that Ning was in charge of the flaming passageways, they had still felt hope. After all, Ning would have to hide within the flaming passageways, but a sufficient number of Hegemons working together while backed by powerful Numerancy would be able to calculate his location and then capture him safely.

As they saw it, all they had to do was to stop him in his tracks. An entire host of Hegemons and Emperors would be able to kill this Daolord with ease. Now, however, Hegemon Azurefiend stood by Daolord Darknorth’s side as his retainer. This meant there was now no chance at all for them to win the realmship.

“Azurefiend actually became a Daolord’s retainer.”

“No matter how impressive a Daolord is, he’s still just a Daolord. Azurefiend is a Hegemon!”

“I can’t believe what a coward Azurefiend is.”

“He’s willing to do anything so long as he can stay alive.” This was what everyone was saying.

Emperors felt an intrinsic sort of superiority towards Daolords. Daolords simply didn’t live long enough, and there was a limit to how strong they could become! Hegemons were supreme amongst Emperors… but now, one of them had become a retainer to a Daolord.

Even the likes of Hegemon Brightshore, Hegemon Windrain, and Hegemon Netherlily were stunned by this, despite being very familiar with Ning. As for the Emperors of the Flamedragon Realmverse, they were completely stupefied by these rumors.

These rumors spread across the Sixteen Realmverses Alliance like wildfire, then reached out to spread to even more realmverses. This was considered a fascinating bit of gossip by major powers. As a result, there were now many major powers in distant realmverses who had never visited the Flamedragon Realmverse but who had heard of a Daolord named Darknorth… as well as a Hegemon named Azurefiend who had actually chosen to be a Daolord’s retainer!